Back to School: Looking after your children’s mental health

Going back to school, or ever starting school for the first time, is set to look a bit different in 2022. Omicron has posed a number of alterations to the classroom including staggered starts and learning from home.

It’s not uncommon for students, and even parents, to feel anxious about the start of the school year.

So how do you support your children in this environment and ensure they have the tools to handle what looks like to be a very different year?

Breakthrough Executive Director John Mannion said if the past few years has shown us anything, it’s how resilient our children are when faced with a variety of different circumstances.

“Learning from home is not new to most students, given the situation over the past two years, but we still need to ensure we are on top of how they are feeling, and how as parents we are also feeling,” he said.

“The important thing is to not put too much pressure on ourselves or our children during this time.

“It’s hard when our routines go out the window, but a great tip is to try and keep them as much as possible. Set up a space for work or school without distraction and have breaks during the day. Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time.”

Nicola Labuschagne, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Anna Freud Centre said parents felt the expectation to be a parent one minute, a teacher the next and then an employee a moment later so it wasn’t surprising parents were feeling the pressure. She offered the below tips to support you and your family.

  1. Be realistic about how you manage your day

Accept that you can’t do more than one job successfully at any one time. However good you are at multi-tasking, you can’t be a fully committed parent supporting your child while also simultaneously being a high-performing employee. If your children are at home and old enough to help younger siblings or prepare occasional meals, this might relieve some of the pressure. They may even learn some useful life skills along the way!

  1. Provide structure for your family

Routine and structure have real value for children. Think of your day’s plan in terms of manageable chunks. Check it each morning, which will give your children a sense of certainty about the day ahead (which is important when the world outside is feeling pretty uncertain).

  1. Make adjustments

For parents who are also working from home, often for the foreseeable future, the demands to deliver can weigh heavy. If you recognise these feelings, talk to those you trust about the competing pressures on you. Think about beginning to identify the priorities within your job, which aspects are time-dependent, and where you could make adjustments. Would it help to change your working hours slightly, or to request notes of meetings rather than always attending them?

  1. Reach out to others

When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to imagine you’re the only one in this situation. Even the most motivated will occasionally feel overwhelmed. That’s perfectly normal. Connect with family, friends, colleagues and other parents. The supportive relationships in our lives are super-important right now.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Be realistic about what you can achieve and allow yourself to let some things go. Acknowledge that this changing situation puts us all under strain, so be clear about what emotional capacity you have – both to support others and to look after yourself. Use it wisely. Encourage a culture of kindness at home – kindness to each other but also to ourselves. Think about what an act of kindness to yourself would look like, and why not add it your list of things to do each day? Nurture others, but also yourself.

John said even while children may be working from home for a while – connection is still important.

“Students need to feel connection to their teachers and their peers, whether that’s through online learning or chatting with them over the phone or catching up at a park. This is critical for their mental health.

“It’s important that even while they will be learning from home, that they understand they are still a vital part of a wider community.”

Read more about Nicola’s advice here: How to juggle your responsibilities as a parent at home – BBC Bitesize